When I got pregnant again, I began to long for stories, for people to whisper in my ear what this felt like, so I could check it against my own feeling, and open up the experience for me. I didn't exactly know I was craving this until I found these three books and felt myself relax into them, and hold them dear in a way I haven't held books dear in a long time. In case you're in the market for a pregnancy read, or really just a good book, all of these were wonderful. Magnificent even, in some spots.
Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother by Beth Ann Fennelly. I've read (and really loved) Beth Ann Fennelly's poetry, so I was excited to discover this book, which is a collection of letters she wrote to a young friend and former student who was pregnant and far away from family. They're loose letters, meandering through her own experiences as a mother to a young child, and her memories of becoming and being pregnant (as well as of a miscarriage). They're gorgeous letters, is what they are. Honest and brave and sweet. I have a very clear memory of sitting with Sam by the Charles river after a picnic, and reading a particularly wonderful letter, and trying to read it to him, but just crying and crying instead. (Okay, many of my clear memories of pregnancy involve crying and crying.) I also loved this glimpse of Fennelly as a writer-mom, making it work, carving out hours for herself and for her writer-husband. She helped me begin working on my own writing again. All of these books did. Oh, she also helped me process the miscarriage a bit more, by calling it a death, and by giving herself permission to grieve it as such, it helped me realize that's what I'd done (am doing) and recognizing that process has been meaningful.
Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family by Catherine Newman. This book is funny. Scene: I am riding the express bus home, sitting next to this little old man, reading this book. I'm pregnant, but no one in the world really knows it yet, and I'm sick pretty much all the time, though slowly coming out of it. And this woman, Catherine Newman, she's newly pregnant and very sick all of the time, and I'm reading the funny things she says about it, and I can't stop laughing. I try to stop laughing, I try valiantly, since it's not all that polite to laugh hysterically on the bus. People have very important and silent things they are doing on the bus, and hearing me laugh uproariously (at how true it is that food that nauseates you while pregnant is not just gross in the moment, but gross retroactively, like you spend a lot of time wondering how you could have ever eaten rice) is not something they care to do, I am sure of it. But really I fail to control myself, and by the time I get off, I am weeping and making all of these really weird sounds, and people are watching me, and once I've crossed the street and am walking through the neighborhood on my way to my house, past the dog and cat friends I say hello to every day, I let myself laugh, loud and big and long, I laugh and laugh, and cry and laugh, and it echoes off the houses, and I am so so grateful to Catherine Newman, who released this flood of joy in me. For a moment, just one tiny moment, I feel sad I'm not sick all the time anymore, since it seems so clearly a part of it, of being pregnant, and I had wished it all away, instead of writing something really beautifully hilarious about it, as Catherine Newman did. (My own complaint about the book: it comes from blog posts, and sometimes it really felt like it came from blog posts, if you know what I mean. Repetitive, overly chatty, episodic rather than a clean run of narrative. But I forgive it. All of it. Especially when I remember the story she tells later about her toddler son and the toilet and his monkey stuffed animal. I can still laugh so hard about that story that it hurts me.)
*The Blue Jay's Dance: A Memoir of Early Motherhood, by Louise Erdrich. This is the most lyrical of the three, and it's gorgeous. Erdrich has three children, and the book doesn't try to separate them out or worry much about time or which baby is which. She just glides you through her pregnancies and her experiences as a young mother as they appear relevant. She lives in the woods, and writes across the street from her house in a little cabin, and she takes baby over and takes care of her as she writes, and she watches birds and cats and other life out her window, and you just want to melt into the woods and be pregnant and writing and nursing forever and ever, amen.
I wish there were millions of these books. I wish I could read them for all ten months. Are there more I've missed? If so, do tell.
(Also worth reading: Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott, and Birth: A Literary Companion, edited by Kristin Kovacic and Lynne Barrett)